Jesus, Obama, Pilate and Palin

By now you've heard the ill-fated attempts to be clever by Rep. Steve Cohen (D) of Tennessee in comparing Community Organizer Barack Obama to Jesus and Governor Sarah Palin to Pontius Pilate. Of course, Susan Sarandon and some other namesake (who's name escapes me) echoed this sentiment.

Now, a lot of folks are offended by this remark. I'm more amused than offended, for at least two reasons.

First, I find it intriguing that these outspoken adults who are so adamant about the so-called "separation of church and state" are trying to position their candidate of choice as being "like Jesus." Doesn't seem like the best or most consistent strategy. But I could be wrong. I'm no political strategist by any stretch of the imagination.

Second, and most important from my perspective, Jesus being presented as a community organizer is a remark that could be made by someone who is, shall we say, only vaguely familiar with who Christ was and what He did.

According to Wikipedia, "Community organizing is a process by which people living in close proximity to each other, are brought together to act in their common self-interest. Community organizers act as area-wide coordinators of programs for different agencies in an attempt to meet community needs for various services. Community organizers work actively, as do other types of social workers, in community councils of social agencies and in community-action groups. At times the role of community organizers overlaps that of the social planners." The article continues, "Organized community groups attempt to influence government, corporations and institutions as well as achieve increased direct representation within decision-making bodies and social reform."

Jesus never coordinated any kind of program, never worked with any organization, and never attempted to meet any community needs for various services. Neither did Jesus ever attempt to influence any government, corporation or institution and He certainly never attempted to attain any direct representation within any decision-making body. In truth, very few labels could fit Christ (except the Biblical kind--prophet, healer, savior, redeemer, messiah, etc.). In fairness, the only label that could possibly be applied to both Jesus and community organizers such as Barack Obama is "reformer." Of course, that's also a label that has been liberally applied to Gov. Sarah Palin. But Jesus' methods of reform was so different from any political candidate that a comparison is only humorous at best. Jesus had no desire to reform government, religious or political. His stated goals were very different.

When asked about his potential political aspirations, Jesus' response was clear (John 18:33-38):

Then Pilate went back into his headquarters and called for Jesus to be brought to him. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked him.

Jesus replied, “Is this your own question, or did others tell you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their leading priests brought you to me for trial. Why? What have you done?”

Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”

Pilate said, “So you are a king?”

Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”

“What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime.”

As for the Palin as Pilate comparison, that's equally amusing, but only if you know your world history. Trust me, Pilate was no modern-day, USA-styled governor. But even if he had been, his biggest fault was that he was spineless against the irrational and bloodthirsty demands of the people. Besides that, governors have, historically, become some of America's most recognized Presidents (Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and more...17 in all).

Of course, the "silver lining in the clouds" could be that, once again, Jesus is making news...nearly 2,000 years after His death. Now that's what I call a a true revolutionary, and the only one who can truly give hope or bring about the kind of change you can believe in.
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About Eric Wilbanks

Brand strategist. Wordsmith. Change architect. Training specialist. DiSC Certified. Family guy (hot wife and 4 cool kids). Love my Bible, guitars, baseball, and MMA.


  1. Anonymous12:40 PM

    Still making news, and without a press release to boot. I love that perspective.

  2. Anonymous4:32 AM

    Hi, saw a link to your blog on the Lee U inCircle site, and thought this looked like an interesting post! I agree that it was very silly to compare Palin to Pilate, but I think that the heart of a community organizer, particularly in a neglected/disadvantaged community, is totally in line with Jesus' heart and, indeed, His mission. A community organizer is someone who meets people where they are and offers hope, guidance, and direction. Not a far cry from what Jesus did.
    (from a pastor's kid and fellow Lee alum, '03 ;)

  3. Christa, thanks for stopping by. Always good to hear from a fellow Lee alum.

    Let me say that I absolutely understand your point of view. There is no doubt that Jesus offers hope to the hurting. It was part of His "anointing" (Luke 4:18, quoting Is. 61). But that really is where the similarities between Christ and every other "social" effort ends. However, rather than give you a long dissertation as to why I believe that is true, please permit me to take a different approach. I challenge you take some time to re-read the Gospels with unsuspecting eyes. Ask the Lord to "surprise you" a bit, show you things that maybe haven't stood out before. And during the process, look for a common thread that runs through the life and ministry of Christ. I feel confident that you will not find social action as that thread, but something altogether more profound, more all-encompassing, and in many ways, more enigmatic.

    While "community organizing" is an admirable human pursuit (one in which any Christian can be proud of participating), it is, in fact, a far cry from the life and mission of Christ.

    Thanks again for reading. I wish you all the best as your continue your walk in Christ!